Grandpa Tom, my paternal grandfather (a couple of marriages in) served in the First World War, one of the thousands of underage Canadian kids who lied about their birthdates and enlisted, getting themselves a buzzcut, rifle, and what was, for most, a one-way ticket to the world’s worst Grand Tour. Like every soldier they felt, in part, they were doing their duty—for queen and country in this case, and to keep perceived evil at bay.
Gramps fought at Vimy, where he was with the cavalry. Cavalry! In the midst of mortars, mustard gas and flamethrowers. A hundred years later it was the horse that became the hero of Broadway. Go figure. Gramps told me of the Christmas they played soccer with the enemy—laughing, having a kick-about on lumpy, frozen mud between trenches. Then they sang hymns, in half a dozen languages, before heading back to their foxholes for hard tack and fitful sleeps in standing water, the precursor to once more trying to kill each other.
This, from the overview of Heard Amid the Guns:
After receiving a bundle of worn letters written by her late grandfather George “Black Jack” Vowel during the First World War, journalist Jacqueline Carmichael became fascinated with the daily realities and personal stories of those who had lived through that pivotal and harrowing period in history. Reaching beyond the battlefield descriptions found in most history books, Carmichael presents unforgettable accounts filled with drama, hope, and heartbreak culled from journals and letters of Allied soldiers and nurses.
From tales of men “shot at dawn” under charges of desertion or cowardice, to women cross-dressing to get into battle, to a Canadian Member of Parliament whose PTSD-induced death was barely acknowledged by Ottawa for nearly a century, Heard Amid the Guns reflects the human face of war. Featuring profiles of people from every Canadian province and many American states, including soldiers of Indigenous, Asian, Indo-Canadian, and African-Canadian and -American backgrounds, this book is a touching tribute illustrated throughout by WWI-era photos, postcards, documents, and the author’s contemporary photos from battlefield sites and monuments.
When I learned of the success of my friend Jacqueline Carmichael’s book, Heard Amid the Guns, I felt a blend of relief and pride. Relief because this book deserves attention. Acknowledgement and recognition. And pride because, well, I’m proud for most of my author peers—the published and yet-to-bes, traddies, selfies, bestsellers and bargain bin bombers. These are my people and I love us, one and all. But in addition to that, I’m proud because my Gramps was there, making a difference. Not just reading Dante’s Inferno but living it, in real-time, unable to simply set it down to grab slippers and brew a cuppa. The stuff that makes me angry when citizens don’t vote. Too many lives were lost for a privilege we can never take for granted.
Remembrance Day—our armistice—once more, just passed. But not the memories. Not the sacrifice. And not the stories. Stories captured here, in Heard Amid the Guns. I applaud journalist-author Jacqueline Carmichael for her dedication, perseverance, and care to her craft, creating this precious book I feel we all should read, and remember.
About the Author: A former newspaper editor and publisher of Westerly News, Jacqueline Carmichael is a journalist who has written for numerous publications, including the Edmonton Sun, Dallas Morning News, Entrepreneur Magazine, Dallas Child Magazine, and National Public Radio. She is a recipient of the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors award for feature series writing. Her first book, Tweets from the Trenches, was shortlisted for a Whistler Independent Book Award.
- Title: Heard Amid the Guns: True Stories from the Western Front, 1914-1918
- Author: Jacqueline Larson Carmichael
- Publisher: Heritage, 2020
- ISBN: 9781772033373
- Pages: 256 pp
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Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of the Gone Viking travel memoirs (Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Gone Viking II: Beyond Boundaries, Gone Viking III: The Holy Grail) and A Season on Vancouver Island. He’s won numerous book awards and received a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.